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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

A Room With a View
Old Globe

A Room With a View
Ephie Aardema and
Karen Ziemba

Broadway musicals usually spend years in development, but occasionally they spring to life fully formed. The latter was the case for friends Marc Acito and Jeffrey Stock, who a year ago met at a workshop to develop a musical version of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. The result of this first-time collaboration has been brought to glorious and vibrant life in its world premiere at San Diego's Old Globe.

Mr. Stock is best known for Triumph of Love, an operatic gem of a musical, and Mr. Acito is a former opera singer. While under the circumstances it would be no surprise that the score for A Room with a View would have operatic leanings what is surprising is its musical sophistication and emotional resonance. Filled with daring while at the same time lush and romantic, Mr. Stock's work is a serious one that nevertheless refuses to take itself seriously.

Mr. Acito has penned a clever book that emphasizes the humor in what is arguably Mr. Forster's most beloved novel. Act one finds Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema) and her cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett (Karen Ziemba) taking in the sights of Florence prior to meeting Lucy's fiancé Cecil Vyse (Will Reynolds) in Rome. It is 1908, the end of the Victorian era, and Florence is bursting with erotic energy, as personified by two of the hotel staff, Ragazza (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Italiano (Glenn Seven Allen). Appalled at such a display, Charlotte immediately quarrels over their room assignment, contending that they had been promised "a room with a view." Language barriers keep the problem from being resolved until Lucy and Charlotte meet Mr. Emerson (Kurt Zischke), who is traveling with his son George (Kyle Harris). Upon hearing of the situation, Mr. Emerson immediately offers to exchange rooms, as his has a view. Charlotte wants to refuse the offer so as not to put herself into social debt to people who aren't upper class, but Lucy dissuades her.

One crack in Charlotte's resolve leads to another and bit by bit British reserve gives way to Italianate joy. Lucy, an accomplished pianist, lets herself go emotionally while performing Beethoven, and George, who is initially petulant about having to travel with his father, finds himself drawn to this less repressed version of English aristocracy. Lucy is also smitten, but she is well aware that her family's fortunes rest upon her match with Cecil.

Act two resets the action to Britain and finds that the Emersons have taken lodgings near the Honeychurch estate. George connects with Lucy's brother Freddy (Etai BenShlomo), who is so up-to-date that he's familiar with Ragtime, an American innovation in music. Cecil shows up and turns out to be a prig. And, well, you know how the story ends.

Director Scott Schwartz has provided A Room with a View with a first-rate production. Heidi Ettinger's set pieces rise, fall and glide smoothly into place, and Mr. Schwartz often used the opportunities thus created to make performers appear and disappear, sometimes with comic effect. Judith Dolan's costume designs don't let the performers blend in with Ms. Ettinger's multi-colored set pieces, and David Lander's lighting design is admirable for not trying to outdo the visual cornucopia onstage. I found Jon Weston's sound design to be a bit intrusive, but the problems were with competing volume levels and can be easily tweaked. Boko Suzuki both served as music director and conducted the ten-member cast and the thirteen-piece orchestra with authority.

The cast is uniformly delightful, though I have a few minor reservations. As George, Mr. Harris is luminous when he isn't trying to be petulant; petulance does not become him. Mr. Harris' voice is also the least "legit of the performers. I complained about his vocal quality when I reviewed his performance as Tony in the tour of West Side Story. Here, he has fixed a number of the problems I noted, but his tone was "mouthy" until he was fully warmed up.

I guess that I qualify as a fan of Ms. Ziemba, as I've consistently enjoyed her work, even in the ill-fated Broadway production of Fred Kander and John Ebb's Steel Pier. Here, she brings dimensional life to a character that could have easily been written off as a dried up crab, and Mr. Stock has given her one of the few solo songs, "Frozen Charlotte," which gives her a chance to reflect on what drives her actions. Still, I couldn't help but wondering if the plot would have been better served by allowing Charlotte to remain more in the background.

These are minor negatives in an overwhelmingly positive assessment that I seemed to share with the enthusiastic opening night audience. The word on the street apparently has been positive, as The Old Globe extended the show's run by a week during previews.

Make it a priority to see A Room with a View. If there's any justice in the world, this one's going to open on Broadway.

Through April 15 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($39 - $93) are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.

A Room With a View, based on the novel by E. M. Forster. Book by Marc Acito, music and lyrics by Jeffrey Stock, with additional lyrics by Marc Acito. Directed by Scott Schwartz, with Boko Suzuki (Music Director), Heidi Ettinger (Scenic Design), Judith Dolan (Costume Design), David Lander (Lighting Design), Jon Weston (Sound Design), Bruce Coughlin (Orchestrator), Jeffrey Stock (Musical Arrangements), Michael Jenkinson (Musical Staging), Jan Gist (Vocal and Dialect Coach), Tara Rubin Casting (Casting) and Anjee Nero (Stage Manager).

The cast includes: Ephie Aardema (Lucy Honeychurch), Glenn Seven Allen (Italiano, Albert), Etai BenShlomo (Freddy Honeychurch), Gina Ferrall (Miss Lavish, Mrs. Honeychurch), Jacquelynne Fontaine (Ragazza, Minnie), Kyle Harris (George Emerson), Will Reynolds (Cecil Vyse), Edward Staudenmayer (Reverend Mr. Beeber), Karen Ziemba (Charlotte Bartlett) and Kurt Zischke (Mr. Emerson).


Photo: Henry DiRocco

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

Follow Bill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SDBillEadie.



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